Timbers Training Notebook: Day 1
The Portland Timbers began their pre-season training Monday on the turf field at adidas’ North American headquarters. Donning the new green jerseys, players split into two equal groups, alternating between indoor strength work and outdoor sprints and stretching.
Players steamed in the cool morning air like racehorses after being put through their paces by assistant coach Amos Magee, under the watchful eyes of head coach John Spencer and assistant coach Trevor James.
Magee had them running forwards, sideways and backpedalling between the mini cones, finishing the workout with a prolonged stretching period and bottled Gatorade administered by trainer Nik Wald. The players are not expected to practice with a ball until they train in Ventura, California.
For the fresh Timbers players, this week at Adidas is as much about getting to know their coaches as each other.
“I was saying to the players in there, this is the side of the game you don’t like doing as a player or as a coach, you just want to get the balls out and start playing. But you must do it, get the fitness base and put the hard work in so it serves you for the rest of the season.”
The players were given a speed and agility test on Sunday, and got the results Monday.
“Yesterday what impressed me more than the fitness was how quickly they became friends and came together as a group,” said Spencer. “I thought it was fantastic. It was a good character building session.”
Spencer brings a long professional pedigree with him, dating back to his schoolboy days with Rangers FC of Scotland.
“My first game as a professional was in 1986 and the mentality doesn’t change,” he said.
“I’m as excited as the fans, I’m looking forward to seeing the guys in uniform on the field. I look around and we have a lot of quality, we have nothing to fear.”
Chemistry was the day’s buzz word.
“Building chemistry early on is massive,” said Spencer. “If you look at the good teams, they all have that in the locker room, it reflects well on to the field.”
For example, players who don’t know each other are already bonding both as friends and as teammates.
In Spencer’s experience, laying the foundation for good teamwork begins on day one. “Not everyone’s gonna like each other but they must know that when they step on the field they can depend on each other.”
Bright Dike expressed the excitement of all the players.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to play, I just can’t wait for the season to begin,” he said.
He said the new guys are mostly asking about the city and the fans, which he is happy to report, are unbeatable.
Of coach Spencer he said, “He’s great, gets everyone focused and puts everybody in a good mood with a couple of good jokes.”
When asked about his new training gear and team uniform, Jeremy Hall quipped, “It feels great to put these colors on, this green goes well with my skin complexion.”
Hall said the spirit among the players is good. “Going by and seeing the billboards is awesome. I can’t wait for that first [home] game, being in a packed stadium with the Timbers Army jumping around.”
Hall’s approach to pre season training? “You’ve gotta be willing to work. Nobody likes to run, but if you want to compete for 90 minutes you’ve got to get your wind out.”
His first impressions of Coach Spencer?
“He’s a goofball, the perfect guy to start out with in Portland. He’s very vocal.”
Other players concurred with this view of Spencer.
Freshly drafted rookie Darlington Nagbe said, “[Coach Spencer]’s a funny guy. He’s real passionate and he’s ready to win.”
He echoed his team mates’ keenness to start playing soccer, but the importance of doing things properly, beginning with fitness assessments and training.
“I’m excited to get the soccer balls out, but know we have to do this too.”
Nagbe is happily adjusting to the idea of being a Timber. “I’ve heard the summers are real nice and there are a lot of good views.”
As for the fans, he added, “I know the Timbers Army is going to be behind us 100 per cent.”
And what will be the biggest adjustment, going from a college player to a professional MLS player?
“My mom’s not here.”
Returning midfielder Ryan Pore said of the competitive spirit in the camp, “I think everyone has something to prove, everyone’s personal goal is to be on the field March 19, and we’ll work our tails off to make that happen.”
As one who knows the Timbers set up he said a few players have been asking him questions, and sees it as part of his duty to help them settle in.
“It’ll take a good month until we become a team together,” he estimated.